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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Reconstructing lost Bach, 11 April 2010
By 
R. Burgess (London UK) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Bach: St Mark Passion (Audio CD)
Unlike the rival recording under Ton Koopman this version of Bach's lost St. Mark Passion uses an edition, by Andor Gomme, that follows the scholarly consensus that when composing the Passion Bach drew on his Funeral Ode BWV-198 for the opening and closing choruses and three of the five arias. These form the core of the Passion and give it its special character, gentle and consoling rather than sublimely dramatic as in the two complete surviving Passions of Bach, the St. Matthew and St. John. Gomme also uses an exceptionally fine piece from Cantata No. 54, also suggested by scholars as the source of another of the arias. The St. Mark setting has a higher proportion of chorale or hymn verses than the other two Passions, most of which can be identified in authentic sources, especially a collection by Bach's son Carl Philipp Emanuel, to whom we must be grateful for his careful preservation of those of his father's scores that came down to him. The setting of the narration of the Passion from St. Mark's Gospel, which would have been unique to the work as presented by Bach in 1731, is irretrievably lost and cannot be reconstructed from other works. In this version, in order to provide a context for the lyrical numbers, the editor has recourse to a contemporary St. Mark Passion by the opera composer, Reinhard Keiser, whose work Bach admired and who may be the composer of the extant St. Luke Passion attributed to Bach but almost certainly not by him. Keiser's recitatives and turba-choruses are, unfortunately, rather plain and uninteresting. Furthermore the text he used is not quite the same as Bach's, which leads the editor to displace two of the arias, placing one immediately before the final chorus where it does not fit particularly well. This aria, which comes from the Funeral Ode, I first heard sung by the outstanding British contralto Helen Watts. Here it is sung by a counter-tenor, William Towers, who is musical but has a hollow and hooty falsetto voice that does scant justice to this wonderful music. (It is worth noting that Bach probably would not have known the English falsetto alto voice that has become something of a fetish these days in performing early music). The same artist has the lengthy aria from Cantata No. 54, which does become, at over eight minutes long, something of a trial. Otherwise the performance by Cambridge forces is perfectly adequate, but nobody should imagine that we have here anything but a suggestion of what one of Bach's greatest lost works might have been like.
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